Greeley: Long-term water planning reveals higher rates in the ratepayers future

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From The Greeley Tribune (Chris Casey):

As Water and Sewer Director Jon Monson looks at the sizable footprint of Greeley’s future — the 2060 comprehensive plan has the city growing heavily to the north and west — “I need to look up the river quite a ways, a long time, to make sure that water will be there when people need it.”

At the center of this multi-layered planning are residents, upon whom cities rely to fund operations and storage projects. The typical Greeley household water bill is $45.83 a month, and that, if a planned water acquisition occurs, would rise about $30 per month over the next 10 years. By comparison, rates have climbed $8.85 per month, or 24 percent, since 2003. “The only place we get our money is the ratepayers. It’s basically an investment in our water future,” Monson said. “… To grow into this area (of the 2060 plan) with the lifestyle we’re accustomed to, or we want, Tree City USA, takes water. And the time to get that water is now, when it’s available and it’s relatively inexpensive.”[…]

Monson’s department would like to buy $90 million worth of water in the next six years. While that would help ensure the city’s needs for several decades, water rates would likely climb 84 percent in the next 10 years, or by $30 per single-family home per month. That’s compared to rates rising, if no additional water is bought, 47 percent in the next decade, or $17 per home. If the city added the $13 per month to water bills for the overall acquisition — the initial $30 million buy coming in the 2011-12 budget — rates would be in the upper third of Front Range cities if other cities do not change their rates during the 10-year period…

“We’re not making money,” Monson said. “We’re not a for-profit agency. We’re just covering our costs.” The department’s annual costs currently are $30.5 million, breaking down to about $12 million for operations, $11 million for debt service, $6 million for depreciation and a $1 million from the general fund.

Greeley is involved in numerous regional water storage and delivery projects, including the Haligan and Milton-Seaman reservoir expansions in the Poudre Canyon area, the Windy Gap Firming Project west of Loveland and the Bellvue Pipeline in Larimer County…

Also, Monson said, the city is dealing with critical water maintenance projects, including headgate repair and replacement at the Boyd and Freeman ditch, from the recent flooding; ongoing cement-lining installation in older, rusting pipes in downtown; outlet gate construction at Milton-Seaman reservoir; and centrifuge replacement at the wastewater treatment plant. All those elements — plus rising electrical and power costs and the regional water projects that cost into the millions in permitting alone — factor into water rates. In Greeley, Monson said, about a quarter of a household’s water bill goes to maintenance costs…

Also, he said, elusive future water supplies will likely be lower quality. Greeley is trying to secure as much source water as possible from close to the Poudre Canyon mouth. If the city waited until primary water sources flowed close to town, it would need to do expensive reverse-osmosis treatment and lose the natural down-gravity flow from the canyon.

More Greeley coverage here.

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